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The Story of Panna Cotta

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

By Ippolita Douglas Scotti:

Photo: By de:Benutzer:Lowsource - German Wikipedia

This sweet, silky delicacy is very famous in Italy—a dessert that every restaurant serves. The name panna cotta was not mentioned in Italian cookbooks before the 1960s until a famous chef, Ettore Songia, offered panna cotta on the menu for his restaurant.

The treat is often cited as a traditional dessert of the northern Italian region of Piedmont, but it is mentioned in an 1879 dictionary as latte inglese ("English milk")—made of cream quickly cooked with gelatin and molded. Although the name panna cotta means "cooked cream," the ingredients are only warmed enough to dissolve the gelatin and sugar.

Similar recipes appear in Greece, Denmark, France, and Hungary, where it is cited as a medieval dessert. The Danish Moos hwit is a spoon dessert identical to panna cotta. The oldest recipe was written in a cookbook by Henrik Harpestræng, a Danish botanist and doctor who died in 1244. Even the French blanc manger is very similar.

Regardless of its origin, you can easily cook a homemade panna cotta and enjoy its creamy texture and delicate flavor. It is a perfect holiday dessert that is sure to impress.

Photo: Hiro - originally posted to Flickr as Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta

1/4 cup cold milk

1 sheet unflavored gelatin or 2 tsp, of granulated gelatin

2 cups fresh heavy cream

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeded

Place cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over the surface in a single layer, or place a sheet on top of the water and wait 10 minutes for it to soften.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat cream, milk, sugar, vanilla pod, and vanilla seeds on medium heat and bring to just a boil until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and discard the vanilla bean.

Stir in the gelatin and immediately whisk until smooth and dissolved. If the gelatin hasn’t fully dissolved, return the saucepan to the stove and heat gently over low heat. Stir constantly and don’t let the mixture boil.

Place the panna cotta in 4 pretty moulds and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Serve with chocolate, caramel, a coulis of strawberry or fresh berries, fresh fruit, and a leaf of mint.


Contessa Ippolita Douglas Scotti di Vigileno is a true Italian—born in Florence, Italy, from a long line of eccentric Italian aristocrats, she has traveled the world in search of adventure, romance, and magical, mouth-watering recipes. "Ippo" loves Italian history, especially as it relates to food. Author of There's a Beatle in My Soup, Curcuma e Zenzero (Ginger & Tumeric), 101 Perche Sulla Storia di Firenze (101 questions on Florence History),The Grimore, The Magic of the Moon, and Magic Herbs (all published by Newton Compton Publishers).

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